The trip from the airport to the house felt stuffier than a 98% humidity on a 104F (40C) degree summer heat wave. Pleasantries were curt and to the point. The rented mini-van was feeling smaller than sub compact. There was no way of hiding it. The social visit felt more like an interrogation gone bad. The looks slicing and dicing the air looking for answers and cracks in the facade of smiles.
While there was not much negative commentary to worry anyone, the first week of the visit was strangely sterile. The love and expected passion was nowhere to be found. Worse, the constant checking of emails and looking for things to do signaled to the veteran couples that their children were in major need of help.
Their dear children had become complete uncomfortable strangers trapped in their beautiful updated house. They were struggling to fill all their free time with meaningful distractions to avoid facing each other. Mary eagerly took her folks on tours and shopping sprees. Jim was happy to go fishing with his folks and reminisce on the good times at the park.
The chill came when the evening arrived. There was no place to hide. The parents wanted to be home to talk but the children wanted to go about their very busy evening routines. The avoidance game was strong. The parents ended up having to play nice with each other as they sought ways to stay entertained in a house devoid of it’s owners.
During the days of uncomfortable chats, the ice between the two families started to thaw. They wanted the same thing for their children and saw that they were both doing somewhat OK. The success was coming and Jim was taking care of his wife better than he was given credit for. Mary was not as vulnerable as it appeared and spoke her mind with ease. If anything, the problem was that they had no time alone together. These kids were too busy living their own lives instead of creating their own joint life.
It was clear an intervention was necessary, however, with the boundaries that Jim seemed keen on keeping, the parents were not sure how to best approach the matter. Mary was not going to be a great line to Jim’s heart as they were in the middle of a silent war.
The parents decided that the best way to solve this disastrous train wreck in the making was to model out the behavior they were seeing. They decided to work as a team to present the behaviors of their children and let that sink in. Hopefully, they were both sensitive enough to see the truth striking them in the face.
Jim was the first to notice something was off. His parents were acting distant, cold, and ultra distracted by their phones. At first, he wrote that off as them just being uncomfortable in his house and not having a good way to cope after a week of weird vibes. It was not as if they were having issues with Mary’s parents, however, which is why Jim was now tuning in with worry.
Mary was more familiar with her parents having silent cold wars in their early days. They had put in the work to correct that very early on. They were now a very happy couple who just was too much concerned about her happiness with Jim. Seeing them acting like they had done many years earlier set off several alarms in Mary’s head.
How could they have slipped back so far. They were doing well. They were great actually. Mary had wanted her marriage to turn for the better like her parents had done. However, she didn’t know how to get Jim to cherish her and nurture her. She was, thankfully so, very independent and didn’t need hand holding. But. See. If her parents were falling apart, what hope did she have with Jim?
What stomped Jim the most was how his parents seemed to miraculously get along great with Mary’s parents while at the same time their relationship was descending rapidly into nuclear silent war. The side looks. The snickering. The back talking. The insults. It was madness!
How did Mary’s parents do with themselves? Jim was not sure he should ask. He knew that they had turned a corner in their marriage when Mary was a little girl. Her ability to be emotionally stoic and independent came from her insecurity about how their parent’s relationship would end. The fact they turned things around had made Jim overestimate how well Mary was doing emotionally.
Mary on her part was crumbling inside. Her parents were back in trouble and she couldn’t fix it because Jim’s parents were around. Talking about the issues would humiliate her parents and cause Jim to lose respect for her parents even more. Yet, she couldn’t let them return home a hot mess. The last thing she needed was for them to split. She couldn’t show Jim all of this, he would no know what to do or how to help. The man was good at taking her orders but she had no experience with him taking the leadership role in moments of crisis. This was not the time to hand over any sensitive decisions to him.
As the days agonizingly progressed, the two sets of parents started having huge massive arguments in front of the children. Jim’s parents would go at each other ruthlessly in front of Mary but not Jim. Mary’s parents did the same in front of Jim but not Mary. When they were all together, it was quiet silent civility with very heavy clouds of tension choking the air.